Civilization owes a profound debt to the ancient Greeks. Their accomplishments still resonate today, showing themselves in the Socratic method, the math we do in algebra class and the ongoing search into the purpose and reason of existence. Apart from great thoughts, however, ancient Greece also produced great deeds. From athletics to astronomy, the Greeks achieved some of mankind's most distinguished advancements.
The Olympics is one of ancient Greece's most famous legacies; so popular, the games still take place every four years. First recorded in history in 776 B.C., the games brought together Greeks from different city-states and were an integral part of Greek unity. Centered on feats of strength and masculine prowess, the games were not bound by the rules modern Olympians must follow. Women could not take part, nor were they allowed to watch, on penalty of death. Athletes, who represented themselves rather than their city-states, were initially from the wealthy, aristocratic class; however, as time passed, those who could find sponsors were allowed to compete. Original Greek sports no longer included in today's Olympiad include chariot racing, pankration -- a type of mixed martial arts combat -- and hoplite races.
The ancient Greeks number scientific advancements in medicine among their accomplishments. Hippocrates of Cos (450 B.C. - 380 B.C.) was a physician and, with other healers, author of the Corpus Hippocratiumis, which spelled out, for the first time, a methodical way to diagnose and treat patients. Considered the father of medicine, Hippocrates also developed the first code of ethics in any professional field. The Hippocratic Oath continues to be integral to the healing arts today.
Stripping away the mystical, the Greeks developed straightforward explanations and philosophies to interpret the natural world. They not only observed the universe; they considered a multitude of possible explanations as to how it functioned, building a representative model to visualize their calculations. Long before Copernicus, mathematician Aristarchus of Samos (310 B.C. - 290 B.C.) questioned the concept of an Earth-centered universe, asserting that the planets instead revolved around the sun. He also grasped the magnitude of the sun, the universe itself and the nature of the stars as other burning suns fixed in space.
Early Greek festivals involving singing and acting evolved into theater, one of the era's great accomplishments. The chorus, a Greek invention, was a substantial part of these early plays and was often accompanied by music. Greek playwrights of the Classical Age are still studied today for the tragic historical and mythological elements explored in their work. Sophocles (495 - 406 B.C.), author of "Oedipus Rex," was the first playwright to use painted scenery onstage and to standardize the number of chorus members. Euripides (480 - 406 B.C.) was a rabble-rouser, producing plays that incited controversy and debate over traditional values. He was also the first to employ the use of inner struggle to motivate his characters. Aristophanes (448 - 338 or 380 B.C.), another accomplished playwright of the time, wrote bawdy comedy, his most famous play being "Lysistrata."
Today's democratic governments are founded on the ideology of the ancient Greeks. Like other city-states, Athens was once ruled by a monarchy; however, after the last tyrant Hippias was overthrown by a strategic coup led by Cleisthenes (570 B.C. - 508 B.C.), civilization was never the same. What followed was the blossoming of Athens into the world's first democratic government; one in which the aristocracy did not hold all the power. Building on the reforms of the Greek sage Solon (630 B.C. - 560 B.C.), who founded Greece's first representative legislative bodies, Cleisthenes instituted a constitution and established the formation of local neighborhood councils to bring the government closer to the people. The ideals of democracy have endured, arguably becoming Greece's greatest accomplishment.
- PBS: The Greeks: Socrates
- Internet Encylcopedia of Philosophy: Ancient Greek Philosophy
- PBS: The Greeks: The Origin of the Olympic Games
- The European Graduate School: Hippocrates Biography
- Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Hippocrates
- Ancient History Encyclopedia: Greek Astronomy
- Central Washington University: Theater and Drama in Ancient Greece
- Northern Virginia Community College: Ancient Greek Theater
- PBS: The Greeks: Cleisthenes
- Olympic.Org: Ancient Olympic Games
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images